Saving Simon: How a Rescue Donkey Taught Me the Meaning of Compassion
Bedlam Farm in upstate New York is where prolific author Jon Katz lives with his wife and a menagerie that includes cats, sheep, donkeys, chickens and dogs. It is a sprawling farm with plenty of space for the two resident donkeys, LuLu and Fanny, who are among the many well-cared-for animals residing there.
As the book begins, a late-night stealth operation is taking place. State troopers, animal control agents and others involved in animal rescue have gathered on a rundown farm with one goal: to rescue a starving, diseased donkey who has been badly neglected by his owner and is near death. The farmer, not a bad man, has fallen on hard times. He can barely feed his own family, let alone a donkey who is of no use on the farm. Ironically, it is the farmer's young son who makes the phone call that sets the rescue in motion. The boy had been sneaking out small amounts of grain to sustain the donkey but understands something more must be done if the animal is to survive.
"The message of this true story will linger with the reader long after the book has been placed on the shelf."
Jon is asked to take in the abused, emaciated animal and agrees without hesitation. His farm is plenty big enough for another resident. Caring for the donkey, named Simon by the animal control agent's young daughter, is no easy task. It is nearly ’round-the-clock medications, injections, salves, careful grooming and hand feeding. Slowly the donkey begins to gain strength, his wounds start to heal, and his legs are finally able to support him. Jon and his wife, Maria, tend and nurture Simon faithfully and patiently, and he learns to trust them and return the affection. Jon even spends his free time reading to Simon and baring his soul to this gentle animal.
It takes a while for LuLu and Fanny to accept Simon into their herd. Each day they kick him in the head, not an undonkeylike thing to do. Jon winces at this, but Simon merely takes it in stride and adapts readily to his new home, which includes fresh green grass, open spaces, kindness and attention, and, of course, treats.
When Jon and Maria decide to downsize and move to a smaller nearby farm where a blind old pony, Rocky, resides alone, complications arise within the animal kingdom. By now Simon considers himself protector of the herd of three donkeys, especially since the other donkeys are females. A stranger sends Jon an email telling him God wants him to have her dog, a border collie. What is even more unusual is that Red becomes a kind of guide dog for Rocky. Simon cannot accept Rocky's presence, and the blind pony is attacked brutally by the donkey, who is merely following his animal instincts. The problem is finally resolved in a manner that is humane, though at first it may not seem so to a reader who is unfamiliar with life on a farm.
While SAVING SIMON is mainly about Simon, his rescue and rehabilitation, it is also about how problems can have different solutions depending upon one's frame of reference. Jon struggles mightily to understand the true meaning of compassion. Should he feel compassion toward the farmer who found himself in a difficult situation and basically gave up, or should he feel compassion only for those he believes truly deserve it? And what really is compassion? It is Simon in his quiet, gentle way whose very presence helps Jon find answers to these difficult questions.
Jon Katz has written more than 20 other books, many of them about dogs and the human-animal connection. The message of this true story will linger with the reader long after the book has been placed on the shelf.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on October 10, 2014